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All for one, and one for all

TEACHERS in Moray are revealing a near evangelical fervour for Canadian-devised co-operative learning techniques that are revamping the image of group work.

Nearly 80 primary and secondary staff last weekend completed a three-day course in techniques that add a fresh dimension to peer support. Two Canadian trainers flew in specially for the course, now firmly on the authority's staff development agenda.

Chris Ward and Jim Craigen, the trainers, say the old standard of group work failed to involve pupils. They tended to work on their own, not supporting or teaching each other. In co-operative learning, pupils focus on tasks and relationships, working together much more closely.

They recommend no more than four pupils to a group to allow everyone to interact. In traditional groups, social skills are assumed or ignored - but they are directly taught in co-operative learning, where no one pupil is appointed leader. Teachers monitor groups and intervene.

"Co-operative learning is all about group work but not all group work involves co-operative learning," Ms Ward said. She is a primary head, seconded as a staff development tutor in the Durham district of Ontario.

Research in Canada and the United States has already shown improvements to academic achievement, self-esteem and school ethos when co-operative learning groups were used in around a third of teaching.

Andy Savory, religious and moral education teacher at Buckie High, said:

"It focuses on pupils being able to help each other learn, and takes you away from the traditional model of the teacher always being the one to supply the information. The whole school can benfit from this type of learning and teaching."

Debbie McDonald, a physical education teacher at Elgin High, said: "It's the most important initiative I have ever been involved in."

Co-operative learning is already embedded in Moray and is continuing to gain popularity at classroom level. At Applegrove primary in Forres, Margaret Macfadyen, deputy head and trainer, has already used the techniques with parents.

George Alexander, a maths teacher at Forres Academy, who set up this year's course, predicted that a "new wave" of pupils from feeder primaries would be familiar with co-operative learning and expect it in secondaries.

The techniques were unearthed by the late rector of Forres, Alistair MacLachlan, who saw them in practice during an educational tour five years ago. Bill Hope, rector of Elgin High, paid tribute to Mr MacLachlan's foresight. "We are delighted Moray Council has now taken the course on board. I believe it is by far the most valuable professional development training course teachers can attend."

Chris Ward can be contacted at ward chris@durham.edu.on.ca and Jim Craigen at jcraigen@idirect.com.

THE FIVE BASICS

* Pupils have to understand the group cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds in their individual role.

* Everyone has to promote each other's success through sharing and mutual support.

* The group assesses performance to identify anyone who needs more support.

* Small group skills such as leadership, decision-making, trust building and conflict management are taught.

* Groups discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective relationships.


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